Category Archives: Race

Yes, I just watched all 7 seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy-the-Vampire-Slayer-TV-Series

I finally got around to watching every single episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and these are my feelz.

1) Why did I ever think this show was going to be scary? Except for Hush. Hush was terrifying.

2) SMG is a goddess.

3) Spike me!

4) Idk that Joss Whedon deserves any feminist/progressive merit badges for this one…

I decided to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer because I liked Firefly (yes I’m one of THOSE people) and because the blogosphere can’t seem to shut up about Joss Whedon and whether or not he’s a feminist and because it’s consistently referred to as one of the most influential sci-fi/fantasy shows of recent times.  Watching it made me feel simultaneously excited and disappointed. I LOVED how much ass Buffy was kicking, and SUPER LOVED Willow in all her ways and shapes and forms, but there were also moments where I felt like annoying sitcom gender tropes were being trotted out for an easy laugh, not to mention several not-so-insignificant race fails that made me want to bang my head against the wall (head banging was in in the 90s, right?). Even harder for me to watch, even as I was shipping, was the Buffy-Spike relationship- it sort of felt like “but he had no soul” was the new “but he wasn’t himself bc drugs/alcohol/rage” re: rape attempts. This plus the enormous rape fail that was Dollhouse (look, I enjoyed it but we all have to admit that it was total shit on rape) does not make me feel like throwing Joss Whedon a big ol’ feminist parade.

Does Buffy deserve the hype? I think so- although as the boyf pointed out to me it has definitely profited from the Netflix-fueled nostalgia bump. It’s campy and it knows it (much like Sleepy Hollow these days), but also manages to grapple with issues like grief, death, immortality, and loneliness, and to do it over time. I appreciated that the problems that the characters were facing didn’t magically resolve themselves in each episode and that there were actually long-term consequences for their actions. I think the concept of Buffy as an uber-progressive show doesn’t weather well, especially given its conspicuous lack of diversity and tendency to make people of color into mystical tribal beings.

Exhibit A: The First Slayer

first slayer

Not pictured: Mystical Inca Mummy Princess, Mystical Warrior Companion, and Mystical Angry Native American.

That being said, Buffy showcased a diverse (but not racially) range of female characters who had their own lives and livelihoods, who loved or didn’t love, who were strong, who were insecure, who were snarky, who were naive, who wore high heels, who wore ratty jeans, and sometimes all of those things at once. It’s kind of sad that this is a huge achievement, but it is still hard to find TV shows or movies or even books where there are a lot of women characters who are distinguishable from one another. And really, those shows didn’t exist until fairly recently (ALL HAIL QUEEN SHONDA). If you poke around in the 90s and early 2000s you can find some really well-developed teen female characters on TV- Freaks and Geeks and My So-Called Life come to mind, but those girls still sort of orbit around the men in their lives. Buffy pulled men into her orbit. She filled her inner circle with men AND women, and those men and women had relationships with her and with each other that weren’t all about sex. And in a society that still doubts that men and women can be friends, that’s pretty radical.

Grade: B+ for Buffy + Spike, no matter what SMG says.

1 Comment

Filed under Gender, Race

I don’t want to be the new face of America, but thanks anyways

If there’s one thing tolerant people love, it’s photos of mixed people.

This National Geographic piece and accompanying photo essay made the rounds a couple of months ago, and while it’s well-intentioned, I’m starting to wish that the media could talk about mixed people without exhibiting us.

Every few years the newest census data rolls in and some major news outlet writes or films a trend piece about mixed people and how we sometimes identify as more than one race and how race is changing and the mixed child is going to be the new face of America blah blah blah and inevitably this piece is accompanied by a photo gallery of mixed people, sometimes user-submitted, sometimes taken by a photojournalist on staff, sometimes artistic (see above). These photo galleries are in theory a great way to increase the visibility of mixed people and give voice to their stories, but in practice…I’m not so sure.

Here’s the truth, plain and simple. If you’re a mixed person, people really really care about how you look. Not just like, your friends or your family or whatever, but random people like the store clerk at CVS, the checkout lady at the grocery store, the server at the restaurant, your coworker’s mom or even just strangers who initiate interactions that are based around commenting on the way you look and some combination of the questions where are you from/wait no where are you really from/wait no where are your parents from/wait no what is your ethnicity. People will guess your ethnicity and feel proud of themselves when they get it right, tell you that you are such a interesting combination of features, tell you that their daughter married an Asian/Black/Hispanic/whatever man and how they wonder if their babies will look like you, ask you who you’re dating and what their race is and then calculate the percentage of each race your babies would be, and you know what? IT IS REALLY WEIRD. IT IS SO WEIRD.

I’m all for giving voice to the voiceless and increasing visibility and all that, but when a major microaggression faced by mixed people is constant commentary about their looks, does a photo essay exhibiting mixed people in all of their unexpected-combination-of-features glory accomplish anything more than giving people more examples of unusual physniogamy to gawk at?

I mean, the answer is yes. It is more than that. The version of me that existed ten years ago needed to see mixed faces in media, needed things like the HAPA project to help her feel less alone, to help her realize that there were others out there who looked like her and sometimes felt like her. There are things about these projects that are empowering. It can be empowering to stand up and say, “I am here. This is what I look like. This is who I am” and have people listen.

But the version of me that exists now wonders how many more times the same article is going to be written before something changes other than the date. How many more headlines will be written about the new face of America before people stop sticking the words “new” “change” or “different”  in front of my face like it’s a surprise that I’m American? Before people stop contrasting me to the “old” face, whatever that is? Before people stop finding it so damned interesting that my parents had sex? (Just so we’re clear, the only thing that’s new about interracial sex in America is that these days, it’s typically consensual.)

When does my face cease to be a statement? When does it become a statement I can control?

I’m tired of feeling like my existence is curated by someone else. The faces that the media chooses to represent me and people like me are not necessarily representative, because the whole point of doing a photo essay on mixed people is to take and show pictures of people who look “interesting” and “different,” not to show pictures of mixed people who aren’t obviously mixed. You can walk out your door every day and see someone who looks white or who looks black or whatever; you’re here to see something NEW.

But at the same time, you’re here to see something that adheres to a certain aesthetic/ideal of mixedness- the ideal that people have when they stop interracial couples on the street and tell them that their children will be beautiful.  There is a comfortable, identifiable version of mixedness that doesn’t challenge expectations or beliefs about race, because you can TELL that they’re mixed and then can project whatever stereotypes upon them that you need to in order to feel comfortable interacting with them, and then there’s my quarterish-Chinese boyfriend who looks white but checks the Asian box and who no one ever believes is what he says he is.

When you look at me or him or anyone else, you’re not color blind.

Despite what you want to believe, the construct of mixedness does not abolish race because mixedness can only exist in a system where there is something to be mixed. Mixed people do not exist outside of racial politics–we do not live in a fairyland where no one will judge us for the shape of our eyes or the color of our skin, and even if we can pass as ambiguously white it hurts us to use a privilege that is denied to our parents or our siblings or our cousins. I do not call for the abolition of race and ethnicity, the erasing of cultures, identity, and history that people claim is evidenced by my skin, my face, my existence, my parents’ love– I call for the abolition of their use as a tool of oppression. I am not particularly interested in the silencing of all of these thoughts and feelings through the appropriation of my body as a symbol for a cause I don’t believe in.

A word or two or three to the people who tell me I’m America:

Mixed people aren’t new; what’s new is that we’re legal. We have existed for as long as people have had feet to walk with and tongues to talk with and hearts to love with but also sometimes hands to grab and hold and take. Biology didn’t make us, society did. We are an American creation insofar as we are the creation of the imperial-capitalist complex that brought our mothers and fathers here sometimes by choice and sometimes by force, but we do not owe our existence to your” tolerance” and “open-mindedness”, although we appreciate real tolerance and open-mindedness where we find it.

Don’t feel good about yourself on my account.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Race

Choose one of the following: White, Black, Asian, Native American, Hispanic

What I wish I said:

Would you like me to pick based on my appearance, lived experience, or which parent I like the most?

What I actually said:

Well, I guess I’m Asian today.

1 Comment

Filed under Amateur Hour, Life, Race

Racism, Sexism, and Prepositions, or The Chaos Arrows Theory of Oppression

When we talk about racism or sexism, we often use the construction “x is racist against y” or “y is sexist towards x” (genetic pun mostly intentional). We add a preposition to the verb phrase “is racist” or “is sexist” in order to clarify who or what is being discriminated against. By doing this, we give “is racist” or “is sexist” a directional component. Racism and sexism are going from one place to another; they originate in one location and travel to a different one.

We typically assume that racism and sexism travel certain paths, that is, from whites to minorities or from men to women, hence, the existence of phrases like “reverse racism” and “reverse sexism.” Racism and sexism become weapons launched from one camp into the massed forces of another. Direction begins to imply intent.

It doesn’t really work that way.

In real life, racism and sexism look less like x—–>y and more like this stock photo that popped up when I google image searched “chaos arrows,” except that this stock photo isn’t the frat boy at the CEOS and Office Hoes party who will someday write your 78%-of-what-your-male-coworker-makes paycheck WOMP WOMP WOMP.

Issues with the directional model of racism and sexism:

1) In this model, every time you use the words racist and/or sexist, you’re implying that an attack has occurred.

2) Instances of racism and sexism therefore look like attacks.

3) As such, instances of racism and sexism are intentional and obvious.

4) Racism and sexism, as attacks, must be directed from one group towards another group. You can’t attack yourself.

It may seem obvious that the statements listed above are, among other things, dead wrong, but unfortunately, this black-and-white (harrdeeharrharr) conception of what racism and sexism are seems to be popular, if not predominant, among the denizens of this earth, particularly those denizens who coined the terms “reverse racism” and “reverse sexism.”

Racism and sexism are not bullets, they’re an enveloping fog of tear gas that you can’t dodge, that you can’t outrun, that clouds everyone’s eyes and judgment, and yeah, that affects some people more severely than others, but regardless is screwing with everybody. Only, it’s been around for so long that some people don’t even know it’s there anymore, and some people think that since it’s always been there, it should stay there, and some people are rolling around on the ground choking, but half of the other people can’t see them, and the other half of the other people think they’re faking, and basically racism and sexism suck, so yeah.

The Tear Gas/Stock Photo Chaos Arrows Theory of Race/Gender Oppression:

1) Racism and sexism are friggin EVERYWHERE. Sometimes the arrows go x–>y, sometimes y–>x, sometimes you throw them straight up in the air and they come back down and splatter all over you and your friends and goshdarnit, you just ruined Becky’s favorite shirt, douchebag.

2) That’s right, folks, you can be racist/sexist against your own race or gender. Men are sexist against men alllll the time (some of these behaviors overlap with homophobia) and women are sexist against women alllll the time. Asians can be racist against Asians, blacks against blacks, and so on and so forth.

3) You can also send racist/sexist tear gas farts towards your friends, family, romantic partners, and/or favorite articulate black politician. JUST BECAUSE YOU LIKE SOMEONE DOESN’T MEAN THAT YOU ARE NOT CAPABLE OF FARTING ON THEM.

4) Sometimes when you’re standing in a huge fog of racist tear gas you do something to fan more racist tear gas into someone’s eyes, and maybe you didn’t mean to do it, but you still did it and now some guy is choking on his own mucus, thanks. Translation: you can be racist or sexist without intending to do so, but the fact that you didn’t mean to doesn’t make it ok. 90% of the time (in my experience) racist people are not sitting around thinking “I’m going to say something racist” when they’re saying something racist.

5) Sometimes the chaos arrows are INVISIBLE  because there is SO MUCH TEAR GAS (I am mixing metaphors, deal with it). Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

6) Because racist/sexist tear gas is a gas, it’s kind of hard to contain/kind of impossible to get rid of on your own, but you can wear a gas mask, and you can get your friends to wear a gas mask, and maybe if enough people start wearing gas masks enough people will be able to see and breathe that they’ll be able to build some sort of huge anti-racist/sexist tear gas vacuum and suck it all out of the sky or something. So like, talk about shit. And call people on their tear gas farts, because maybe they don’t know they’re doing it and you can give them some Privilege-Pepto or maybe they do know they’re doing it, in which case you can ostracize them because no one wants to be friends with someone who farts on other people on purpose. That’s just not cool, man.

5 Comments

Filed under Gender, Race

Today in Casual Racism…

http://www.collegehumor.com/video/6829240/photoshops-new-chinese-food-tool

Please note the tab on the computer screen that says “cat.jpg.”

Face, palm. Palm, face.

Leave a comment

Filed under Race

Food and Authenticity: You are What You Eat, or Why I Feel Like A Race Traitor when I Eat Sweet and Sour Chicken.

BEFORE READING PLEASE NOTE THAT AUTHENTICITY IS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT. PRETTY MUCH EVERY TIME I WRITE AUTHENTIC WHAT I MEAN IS “AUTHENTIC”

Americans are obsessed with authenticity. We are a nation of immigrants, not even three hundred years old, with no dominant cultural tradition other than Christianity, and even that is splintered into smaller spheres of influence. The only universal folktale is the American Dream, the only universal hero George Washington, who manages to get a free pass on slavery because he looks good in comparison to TJ.

Americans pursue authenticity in a myriad of ways, most of which fall into the following two categories:

1)   Being Authentically American

2)   Being Authentically Something That Has a Cultural Legacy of More Than 236 Years

Things that fall under category 1: white supremacists, fundamentalist churches, extreme assimilation by immigrants (i.e. a complete rejection of all things associated with the country of origin including but not limited to language, food, and clothing), Cowboy and Indian movies, self-loathing POCs, the NRA, the Tea Party, LA circa 1950

Things that fall under category 2: appropriationist hipsters, Hare Krishna, Starbucks, 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants looking to reconnect with their cultural roots, people who complain that New York isn’t Paris, The Karate Kid, Eat, Pray, Love, and other movies about other cultures where none of the main characters are from that culture, slum tourism, a significant portion of gap years, “Navajo” chic.

Note: The concept of authentic “blackness” is something that doesn’t fit entirely into either of these categories. Blackness (as opposed to African-ness) is typically considered to be an authentic American tradition but is not considered to be representative of the American tradition as a whole. American is commonly used as a synonym for white; to designate a black American, some sort of modifier is necessary (case in point).

And now the part where I talk about sweet-and-sour chicken.

Sweet and sour chicken is as authentically American as pizza and hamburgers. Like pretty much all “American” foods, it is a bastardized version of a dish from another culture that has evolved so as to be basically unrecognizable/unreproducable by members of that culture. It is also pretty damn good.

First layer of awkward: To a not-unsubstantial percentage of the American population, sweet and sour chicken represents authentic, exotic Chinese food. When people eat sweet and sour chicken and think that it is authentic, they display a certain level of ignorance about Chinese culture that is mildly infuriating/hilarious to many Chinese Americans. I realize that this seems somewhat unfair, but as a child who was told by a 3rd grade teacher that Chinese people eat fortune cookies to celebrate Chinese New Year, and as a child who then got in trouble for informing said teacher that fortune cookies are American, and as a child who was accused of eating cat, and as a child whose dumplings “smelled like MSG,” I can attest to the fact that ignorance about food is often linked to other, nastier types of ignorance.

Second layer of awkward: There is a segment of the non-Asian American population that has realized that sweet and sour chicken is not authentically Chinese and therefore goes very far out of its way to prove how truly cool and awesome and adventurous it is, while snobbishly looking down on sweet and sour chicken-eaters. These people think of your culture as being a consumer good. No matter what you say to them they will always be more Chinese than you, are too open-minded to ever be racist, and are really fucking annoying.

Third layer of awkward: I was not raised in an “authentically Chinese” household. I’m a half white kid from the South, which is a depressingly large Asian food desert. I wasn’t friends with Asian people because there weren’t any. I identify as Asian/Chinese because that’s what everyone always told me I was, not because I was raised in any particular tradition. Translation: I AM A POSER. The only difference between my experiences with authentically Asian food and culture-consumers’ experiences with authentically Asian food is that I’ve got a Chinese mom who has got a Chinese mom who has on at least one occasion killed a pigeon from her balcony and made soup with it (isn’t it awkward how I’m using that anecdote to shock people into accepting my half-baked claim on authenticity?)

Things that go through my mind when I consider ordering sweet and sour chicken:

1)   Am I eating with white people? I will counterbalance my sweet and sour chicken order with a very loud and obnoxious yet casual statement about how sweet and sour chicken isn’t REAL Chinese food but probably I will make that statement and still not order sweet and sour chicken.

2)   Am I eating with Asian people?
2a) Are these Asian people more Asian than me? Nope no chicken.
2b) Are these Asian people problematically self-identified twinkies? I’m already judging them way harder than they’re going to be able to judge me.  Sweet and sour goodness come to mama.
2c) Are these Asian people actually my friends? I will start a hilarious conversation about all of my sweet and sour feelings and then order sweet and sour chicken.

3)   Am I eating alone?
3a) Are there lots of white people around?
3a) i. Will these white people be able to tell that I’m part Asian? Well poop, if I’m eating sweet and sour chicken, I’ll be reinforcing their ignorance.
3a) ii. These white people will definitely not be able to tell that I’m part Asian. I could get away with ordering sweet and sour chicken but this is also an opportunity to educate the masses….I’m going to order something made with organ meat.
3b) Are there lots of Asian people around? LOOK, SEE I’M ONE OF YOU. I’M NOT ORDERING SWEET AND SOUR CHICKEN.

4)   I need to go home and meditate on my privilege.

In conclusion:
My cravings for sweet and sour chicken are a feedback loop from hell. If I give in, I’m a bad Asian and I’m enabling ignorance. If I don’t, I’m a pretentious douchebag who’s buying into and reinforcing societal expectations of what authentic Asian-ness is.

Screw this. I’m getting pho.

4 Comments

Filed under Life, Race